Last updated: 18 January, 2013

Kurd-jihadist firefights rage in northern Syria

Fierce clashes raged Friday in a majority Kurdish city of Syria and near Damascus, as UN rights chief Navi Pillay piled pressure on the Security Council to probe war crimes in the 22-month conflict.

The violence claimed dozens of new lives on Friday, including an Al-Jazeera reporter, the second journalist killed by snipers in 24 hours, the pan-Arab news channel said.

Mohammed Hourani “was shot dead by a regime sniper”, Al-Jazeera said, a day after French journalist Yves Debay was gunned down in the northern city of Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Hourani was covering clashes in the southern province of Daraa, cradle of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, said the network.

Farther north near Damascus, regime warplanes bombarded rebel strongholds including Daraya, while the army dispatched reinforcements to the town to reclaim it from the insurgents, activists said.

A building housing a field hospital was hit and residents struggled to pull people from the rubble, activist Abu Kinan told AFP via the Internet. He was unable to give a casualty toll.

But the Britain-based Observatory said at least 119 people were killed in violence across Syria on Friday, including 93 civilians.

Fighting also raged in the majority Kurdish northern city of Ras al-Ain, on the Turkish border, with jihadists battling Kurdish militiamen for control of the district, activists and residents said.

They said fighters from the radical Al-Nusra Front — listed by the United States as a “terrorist” organisation — and Ghuraba al-Sham groups launched an assault on Thursday, crossing into the city from Turkey with three tanks.

“The Kurdish fighters seized one of the tanks,” on Friday, an activist identifying himself as Havidar told AFP via the Internet.

Syria’s Kurds are divided over the conflict with some supporting Assad’s regime, others backing the uprising and others striving to stay neutral.

Activists say they fear Turkey, which backs the revolt against Assad, may be using jihadists in Syria to fight its own battle against its own Kurdish minority.

The relentless violence was at the centre of a meeting Friday at the divided Security Council, where human rights commissioner Pillay gave a briefing on the deteriorating events tearing apart Syria.

Pillay called for an International Criminal Court war crimes investigation in Syria, adding her voice to 58 countries who petitioned the body for a such a probe to be launched.

“I have urged the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court for investigation of war crimes and crimes against humanity on the part of all parties engaged in this conflict,” Pillay said.

She said victims in Syria “see the situation as the United Nations not carrying out its responsibility to protect victims.”

Russia and China have used their power as permanent Security Council members to block three resolutions which would have threatened sanctions against Assad and in some cases a war crimes case.

Also on Friday, protesters flooded streets of flashpoint areas across Syria, renewing their calls for the fall of Assad’s regime and paying tribute to 87 victims of a deadly bombing in Aleppo university this week.

Syria’s spiralling conflict has killed more than 60,000 people in less than two years, says the United Nations. The Observatory has documented 48,000 dead, most of them civilians.

According to an AFP count and the Paris-based rights group Reporters Without Borders, at least 20 professional journalists have been killed in Syria where more than 40 citizen journalists have also died.